3D printing in surgery: the groundwork for a paradigm change in personalized surgical treatment

Written by Dietmar Hutmacher

Planning surgery with 3D-printed models
Catch up on the latest news from 3DMedLIVE 2019

Dietmar W. Hutmacher, 3DMedLIVE 2019 Advisory Board member and Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of 3D Printing in Medicine, reflects on how 3D-printed models and personalized surgical planning is set to disrupt today’s surgical practice.


Dietmar HutmacherDistinguished Professor Dietmar W Hutmacher is a biomedical engineer, an educator, an inventor and a creator of new intellectual property opportunities. He directs the Centre for Regenerative Medicine and the ARC Training Centre in Additive Biomanufacturing at Queensland University of Technology, an interdisciplinary team of researchers including engineers, cell biologists, polymer chemists, clinicians and veterinary surgeons. He is an internationally recognized leader in the fields of biomaterials, tissue engineering and regenerative medicine with expertise in commercialization. He has translated a bone tissue engineering concept from the laboratory through to clinical application involving in vitro experiments, preclinical studies and, ultimately, clinical trials. His recent research efforts have resulted in traditional scientific/academic outputs as well as pivotal commercialisation outcomes. His pre-eminent international standing and impact on the field are illustrated by his publication record (more than 300 journal articles, edited 14 books, 70 book chapters and some 500 conference papers) and citation record (more than 34,000 citations, h-index of 84).

Hutmacher currently maintains the position of Editor-in-Chief of Future Science Group publication, Journal of 3D Printing in Medicine.

>> Find out more about 3DMedLIVE 

Register as a member of 3DMedNet for exclusive 3DMedLIVE updates

3D printing technology – or the by industry preferred term, additive manufacturing – is going to transform medicine today, whether it is via patient-specific, 3D-printed models or custom-made prosthetics. Personalized on-demand medicines and bioprinting of scaffold and/or bioink cell constructs, however, need at least another decade to demonstrate clinical significance.

Studies of surgeons using 3D-printed models to rehearse procedures have shown that both complex and more routine operations can be carried out more efficiently and with less trauma for patients.

Anatomical models are designed first in silico from patient scans by using advanced software technology platforms and then additively manufactured, thereby allowing the surgeons to perfect their corrective methods before entering the operating theatre. The physical, spatial and tactile benefits of a 3D physical model can increase preparedness and reduce time in surgery. The potential cost savings alone are considerable. The running of an operating theatre in a university hospital can cost between AUS$3,000—5000 an hour. Today’s 3D printing of anatomical models can simulate everything from soft tissue and muscles to cartilage and bone in a single print job. The model design can even combine clear materials to allow the clinical team an unobstructed view of hidden tissues and blood vessels.

A virtual surgery plan is only advantageous when the clinical team can translate it to the operation theatre. An effective way to do so is by using surgical guides. Surgical guides provide the surgeons with assistance for determining exactly where and how to cut. This not only provides patients with the personalized treatment that is the best for them specifically, but also simplifies the procedure for the surgeons. There are several advantages of using surgical guides including accuracy, the simplicity and  benefit of preplanning the surgery, reduced blood loss, reduced risk of fat embolism, reduced risk of infection, less equipment necessary compared to other techniques, less of a learning curve, reduced operating time and reduced radiation exposure

Yet, the immediate overall challenge in 3D printing in medicine is ensuring that medical professionals themselves are up to speed with the cutting edge of the  technology, because it is their clinical experience that will be needed to drive the translation from using the technology for treatment of special clinical cases into routine clinical application.

The 3DMedLIVE conference will be an excellent platform to demonstrate that 3D printing technology enables more effective patient consultations, increases diagnostic quality, improves surgical planning, acts as an orientation aid during surgery and provides a template for surgical resection. The conference will involve leaders in the field presenting on how todays 3D printing technology has the potential to be very valuable to clinicians for delivering and performing patient-specific individualized surgery.

The opinions expressed in this feature are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of 3DMedNet or Future Science Group.